Singapore’s Sky High Greens

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skygreens1In urban areas, if land is scarce, development extends upwards with the production of skyscrapers and high rise buildings. Singapore, with the world’s highest population density, has 74 buildings of 150 metres or taller, despite the country spanning only 718km2.[1] With such a strong sky-high orientation, it follows that Singapore would be at the outset of high-tech vertical farming, constructing farms that reach nine meters into the air.

Developed by Jack Ng, Sky Greens is the world’s first low carbon, hydraulic-driven vertical farm. Housed within protective outdoor greenhouses, A-shaped aluminum frames each hold up to 38 tiers of troughs. The troughs – which can accommodate soil and hydroponic plants – slowly rotate like Ferris wheels, ensuring each plant receives uniform sunlight, irrigation and nutrients. The rotation is driven by a hydraulic system; only 0.5 litres of water is needed to power the 1.7 ton tower, and the water is filtered and reused afterward on the vegetables.

Currently, the greenhouses produce many types of Asian vegetables (xiao bai cai, naibai, cai xin, Chinese cabbage, mao bai, bayam, kai lan and kang kong), as well as lettuce and spinach, and they hope to expand to other varieties in the future.[2] The vegetables can be harvested every 28 days and costs are kept down by the lack of transportation costs.

However, there is a slight premium: a 200g packet of Sky Greens xiao bai cai, for example, costs 45 cents more than a 250g bag from a traditional Singaporean farm. The greens are currently available at NTUC FairPrice, Singapore’s largest grocery retailer, and the appeal of buying local makes them quite popular, despite the price difference.[3]

 

Top of its Field

 

skygreensAccording to Sky Greens, the benefits of this form of vertical farming are abundant. The components require minimal land, water and energy and, being housed in a protected environment, the entire system is low-maintenance. They claim the yield can be at least ten times that of a traditional monolayer farm per unit area of land. With the hydraulic system and no need for artificial lighting, 40W of electricity – the same wattage as a basic light bulb – is all that’s needed to power each tower. All organic waste is composted and reused, and the close proximity to customers reduces emissions, transportation costs and the risk of spoilage.

Singapore’s innovative approach to farming is a product of necessity to ensure food supply resilience amidst land-scarcity. Without sufficient land, the country imports 93 percent of their fresh produce from over 30 countries. This dependency makes them highly vulnerable to changes in prices and food supply. [4] Ng began developing a prototype during the 2009 financial crisis: “Food prices were going up because of supply disruptions overseas, so I had the idea of growing more food here,” he says.[5]

While Sky Greens is a novel iteration of vertical farming, and the first instance of it being commercialized, the concept has a long history. Vertically layered growing techniques were first used by the indigenous people of East Asia and South America to produce rice and other similar crops. The term “vertical farming” was coined in 1915, but only in the last decade has there been a push towards developing a commercialized, economically viable form. “We’ve seen many before,” says Simona Rocchi, Senior Director of Design-for-Sustainability at Philips Design, “but this is actually working and is at the top of its field.”

Sky Greens currently has over 1000 towers, with 1000 more in the construction phase. With some towers allocated to research and development, they can produce up to a ton of vegetables per day. They are looking to the future, considering the production of organic produce and different types of produce. Says Roshe Wong, Business Development Manager, “Besides leafy vegetables, we could grow herbs, small fruited vegetables, climbers, strawberries, flowers, fodder and even rice!”[6]

 

A Bold Agricultural Solution

 

Vertical_Farming_VF_illustration

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With a UN estimate that there will be two billion more mouths to feed by 2050, Sky Greens “could have a great impact in so many places all around the world,” says Camilla Bredholt, founder of the Danish sector of Médecins Sans Frontières.[7] Ng aims to sell the technology behind his patented frames, which can be customized and scaled to suit different crops or natural conditions.[8]

It remains to be seen whether this technology would be equally applicable on a larger scale or within different environmental conditions. Singapore’s consistent tropical temperature of 30 degrees Celsius and abundant sunlight make it an ideal location. But this soon will best tested: their first overseas vertical farm is in operation in Hainan, China, and a second is under construction in Thailand, while advanced negotiations are underway for other cities in China, Malaysia and the U.S. [9] With much recognition and praise, including the recent INDEX: Award, there is clearly a future for this bold agricultural solution.

Ng hopes that the project will inspire young designers, architects and entrepreneurs to assist with the global challenge of food production sustainability.[10] To learn more about Sky Greens, visit their website, or watch a video about the project here.

 

Notes:

[1] http://skyscrapercenter.com/countries?list=buildings-150

[2] http://www.skygreens.com/

[3] http://designtoimprovelife.dk/sky-urban-vertical-farming-system-index-award-2015-winner-work-category/

[4] http://www.skygreens.com/

[5] http://permaculturenews.org/2014/07/25/vertical-farming-singapores-solution-feed-local-urban-population/

[6] Correspondence with Roshe Wong, Business Development Manager, Sky Urban Solutions Holding Pte Ltd.

[7] http://designtoimprovelife.dk/sky-urban-vertical-farming-system-index-award-2015-winner-work-category/

[8] http://www.skygreens.com/

[9] Correspondence with Roshe Wong, Business Development Manager, Sky Urban Solutions Holding Pte Ltd.

[10] http://designtoimprovelife.dk/2015-finalist-jack-ng-sky-urban-vertical-farming-system/

 

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Rachel Pott

Rachel Pott

Rachel Pott is a writer, teacher and human rights advocate from Peterborough, Canada.

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